The Children's Blizzard

( 40 )

Overview

Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America?s heartland would never be the same.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author ...

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The Children's Blizzard

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Overview

Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America’s heartland would never be the same.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The morning of January 12, 1888, dawned so unseasonably mild that many children in the Midwest walked to school without heavy coats or gloves. That afternoon, the quiet skies broke suddenly into a raging chaos of hurricane-force winds and blinding snows. Thousands of people, many of them schoolchildren returning home from class, were stranded in this bone-numbing blizzard. By the next morning, more than 500 people lay dead, many of them children caught just a few yards from shelter. David Laskin's The Children's Blizzard captures a weather event so horrific that its savage blasts are still remembered in Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.
Erik Larson
“Laskin captures the brutal, heartbreaking folly of this chapter in America’s history.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060520762
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/11/2005
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 104,352
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

David Laskin is the author of The Children's Blizzard, winner of the Midwest Booksellers' Choice Award for nonfiction and the Washington State Book Award. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Smithsonian magazine. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

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First Chapter

The Children's Blizzard

Chapter One

Departures and Arrivals

Land, freedom, and hope. In the narrow stony valleys of Norway and the heavily taxed towns of Saxony and Westphalia, in Ukrainian villages bled by the recruiting officers of the czars and Bohemian farms that had been owned and tilled for generations by the same families, land, freedom, and hope meant much the same thing in the last quarter of the nineteenth century: America. Word had spread throughout Europe that there was land -- empty land, free land -- in the middle of the continent to the west. Land so flat and fertile and unencumbered that a family could plant as soon as they got there and harvest their first season. "Great prairies stretching out as far as one could see," wrote one Norwegian immigrant of the image that lured him and his wife and three sons to America in 1876, "with never a stone to gather up, a tree to cut down, or a stump to grub out -- the soil so black and rich that as somebody said, you had only 'to tickle it with a plow, and it would laugh with a beautiful harvest.'" As for the sky above this land, there was no need to worry. Rain, they were promised, would fall abundantly and at just the right times. Winters were bright and bracing, snowfalls light and quick to melt. "Indeed, it may be justly claimed as one of the most beautiful climates in the world," proclaimed a pamphlet written, translated, and distributed by agents of one of the railroad companies that owned millions of the choicest acres of this land, "and one best adapted to the enjoyment of long and vigorous life." And so they came for land, freedom, and hope, some 16.5 million of them between 1850and 1900, the majority of them never getting beyond the East Coast cities, but many hundreds of thousands, especially the Germans and Scandinavians, ultimately bound for the vast American grassland frontier bordered by the Mississippi to the east and the Missouri River to the west.

Gro Rollag was one of the seven hundred fifty thousand Norwegians who emigrated to America in the nineteenth century. She was twenty-two years old and a bride of several days when she left her family's farm in Tinn in the Telemark region of southern Norway in April 1873. Gro had married a strapping blond boy named Ole, three years her junior, from a neighboring farm. Rollag was his surname as well, since it was the custom in that part of Norway for families to take the names of the farms where they lived. In Tinn there were six Rollag farms scattered through the valley -- North Rollag, South Rollag, Center Rollag, and so on -- all of them small and niggardly in yields of barley, oats, potatoes, hay. Growing seasons were short this far north, crop failures all too common in chilly overcast summers, fields so pinched that only the most primitive tools could be brought in. "Our honeymoon took us to America," Gro Rollag wrote fifty-six years later with her dry humor, as if they might have chosen Paris or Nice instead. While the truth, of course, was that Gro and Ole left Tinn because the fields of the Rollag farms were being divided into smaller and smaller parcels every generation, because they didn't want to leave their children with less than they had, because in Norway only the firstborn sons inherited the arable valley parcels known as bonde gaard, and because Ole was facing five years of compulsory military service.

But it wasn't in Gro's nature to write this in the memoir she titled "Recollections from the Old Days." Nor did she mention how hard it was to leave behind this stunningly beautiful landscape at the beginning of spring -- the mountains rising sharply from the shores of a twenty-five-mile-long lake known as the Tinnsjo, the farms clustered on a level shelf of land at the head of the lake, the waterfalls gleaming on the sides of the mountains and feeding streams that merged into the broad Mana River, the red and white farmhouses scattered around the stately white church. Beauty was abundant and free in the countryside of Tinn -- but you couldn't eat beauty, and the beautiful farms were yielding less and less while the population steadily grew. But they were comparatively lucky in Tinn. Elsewhere in Telemark the farm fields had become so small from repeated division that farmers had to harvest the hay that grew on the thatch of their roofs and grow vegetables by spreading dirt and manure on top of rocks. It was a sad, haunted country for all its beauty. Men in the prime of their lives built their coffins and stored them inside until they were needed. "It was not a very pleasant thing to look at before you got used to it," recalled one Norwegian immigrant.

Gro Rollag was no beauty, but she was a strong capable young woman with a long face, prominent cheekbones, high forehead, and a kindly intelligent look in her rather narrow eyes. According to family lore, she was not the most conscientious housekeeper because she preferred reading to housework. A love of books and reading ran in the family. Of all the possessions they were forced to sell or leave behind in Norway, what the Rollags remembered with deepest regret was the library they inherited from an eighteenthcentury ancestor -- lovely old books sold to pay for their passage to America.

Gro and Ole were the first of the family to emigrate, leaving Oslo on April 24, 1873. "We traveled via England and with the Cunard Line from Liverpool," Gro wrote in her recollections half a century later, furnishing precious few details. "We were thirteen days on the Atlantic and landed at Boston. From there we went west in a railroad boxcar. We took a little snack for the journey -- a piece of sausage and a few crackers each."

The Children's Blizzard. Copyright © by David Laskin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 40 )
Rating Distribution

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(17)

4 Star

(14)

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(5)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 21, 2012

    Don't miss out on a great book!

    I could not stop reading this book until I finished it! Barely put it down to eat. So informative about the weather that cruel winter and not in the least boring. You will feel such sorrow for the children caught in this tragedy and their grieving families. Truly a story of the past not to be forgotten. Please read this book and be forever changed by understanding the hardships of the people living through this time in our history.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2011

    If you like the history of reporting weather...

    I was looking for a book of human survival under blizzard conditions. I had expected more information about how the early settlers got through this terrible winter.

    What I got was less than half a book about people. I was disappointed as so much of the book was uninteresting to me and I skipped probably 100 pages. I'm just not interested in the predicting and reporting of weather in that era.

    Disappointed.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2008

    Great Book

    This is one of the best books I have ever read. The author did an outstanding job of details and writing. Had he not written this book to give us historical information of the time, we would not have known these historical facts, job well done!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2007

    Touching stories included...

    This book starts out and ends great. There are several chapters that explain weather patterns, 1888 weather knowledge, etc that I found somewhat dry. It was the stories that I found so intersting! I've always been intersted in historic events and stories of individuals. However, I did not like how the author added his own perception of what happened to some people (but he worded them as fact). He put too much of his own personal emotion into stories that were already great.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2006

    Excellent Reading

    This book is not only intriging by introducing you to meterology, but is a part of our history that you will never forget. His writings transport you back in time. I could not put the book down. Excellent!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2006

    Little House on the Prairie meets the Best of the Weather Channel

    I loved the two-sided aspect of this book. This is the gripping tale of real American families facing an unreal situation on the prairies. The story is woven through the fascinating account of the development of weather technology and the American weather service. Laskin shows tender and thoughtful attention to both of his subjects and particular care to the places where they meet. This is not simply a book about weather - it's more of a portrait of how weather interacts with people and shapes their lives. A wonderful book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2012

    Greatheart

    I find that offensive.

    1 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2011

    Interesting read - offensive summation

    The author's extensive research permeates this book with intricate details on freezing bodies, politics of the Signal Corps, and first-hand accounts to make this an important read. Interesting, mo mention of the Native Americans during this tragedy. In his bio, the author reveals "I have never lived on the American Prairie"; made obvious by the ending comments. He says "Children were the unpaid workforce of the prairie, the hands that did the work no one else had time for or stomach for." He also quotes a NYT op-ed page which concludes that one of the greatest mistakes in American History was the "scheme" to settle the Great Plains. Mr. Laskin concurs that the blizzard of 1888 was an early sign of that mistake. Regardless of how these pioneers came here, be it false promises or lies of abundance, they came with a work ethic and strong belief to make a life out of nothing. If this author had been lucky enough to be a descendant of these pioneers, he would have heard wonderful stories of creative games, family, Church, and yes even hard work. A work ethic that continues today in the people of the Great Plains. If he had been blessed to be a part of this culture, I think he would have offered a different spin on the topic. Its unfortunate to summarize this amazing story of human perseverance as a mistake.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2010

    An account of a blizzard that was a perfect storm...you won't put this book down until the storm is over!

    I was fascinated by this account of a devastating blizzard that swept over the plains. My ancestors were surely involved and I was glued to this book until the storm was over!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2007

    Wonderful Book !!!!

    What a great book to read and I'm not one to read a lot !! It is very interesting and keeps you on your toes. If you have lived in the Midwest and have witnessed any of the blizzards that we have here, you can definitely relate to this book. I am over half way done and have only been reading it about 2 weeks. Awesome !!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2006

    Walks the fine line

    I enjoy history but don't like when an author takes license with the facts. This book walks the fine line between objectivity and the author's emotional involvement with his subject, a difficult feat to accomplish. The supporting research has been done with great care. (Thank you, Mr. Laskin.) Where the author indulges in very limited speculation in dramatizing the events, it is both obvious (so the reader does not confuse it with the available facts) and informative, based on current scientific knowledge. By way of example, his descriptions of what a person endures physically and psychologically when enduring extreme cold is excellent. The reader emphathizes with the sufferings of people he has never met, and comes away with more appreciation of what it took to make the America we live in today. I highly recommend this book as a resource for all home-schooling parents. It would be a good unit study in several areas: U.S. history, science (hypothermia, weather, weather prediction), media (how newspapers stirred up public response), politics (how lives were thrown away because politicians wanted to build their power base).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2005

    Great Book... Interesting...

    Read about this book thru a book review in the paper, and found it at and Indi Seller. Growing up in the Midwest I was eager to read about this historical event... and was not disappointed. Highly recommend this book to historical buffs... it did not bog down and kept moving at a good pace. Kept your attention until the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2005

    Human Triumph and Trajedy

    Although I'm not a 'weather' guy this book was a great read. It details what was in place and what transpired in regards to the this blizzard. Human stories were terrific and holds the reader

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2005

    Engageing Read......

    I found this book through the Independent Book Sellers List. The story was engageing, but more of a narrative of what happend rather than a personal story. It reminds me of The Perfect Storm or the Sinking of the Whale Ship Essex. Human stories that will stay with you long after the last page is turned. It will expose you to meteorology.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 21, 2014

    Highly recommended look at the precarious lives of the pioneers

    Highly recommended look at the precarious lives of the pioneers of the Great Plains states and their coexistence with the land and weather. You will never take for granted a weather storm warning, again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2014

    Recommended

    A good look at the trials and tribulations faced by the early settlers. Reminds us of how lucky most of us are today

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2014

    Heartbreaking

    This is a hearbreaking, fascinating, well-researched book on the Blizzard of 1888. It shows the petty jealousies of the various weather-predicting bureaus and how the science of meteorology in 1888 was as much necromancy as science. This was the storm that rapidly destroyed the myth that the Great Plains were habitable for farmers and settlers, and that "rain follows the plow" (it doesn't). Lots of Great Plains publicity at the time was just short of a Ponzi scheme in terms of promises made to settlers.

    This book is meticulously researched, down to the author interviewing third-generation descendants of survivors of this blizzard. A bit too much meteorological information for me, but the stories make you want to weep. It's impossible to fathom the speed and destruction of this storm, but this book gives you the best shot at a horribly vivid reconstruction from survivor accounts.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2013

    History Channel meets the Discovery Channel in a book! A fasci

    History Channel meets the Discovery Channel in a book!


    A fascinating and compelling read. Personally I loved the meteorological detail that's the backstory to a human tragedy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2013

    heavy on weather forecasting and light on story at half-way poin

    heavy on weather forecasting and light on story at half-way point. Soldiering on.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Priceless piece of American history

    True review of events before,during and after a devestating blizzard in the late 1800's. What went wrong and what we learned from it.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews

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